Friday, November 12, 2010

What is faith?

Over the past year I have been on a journey of discovery to try and determine what faith (if any) I had lost. At the very beginning of this journey I realised that the first step was defining what faith actually is. There seems to be two possible definitions of faith:

  1. Belief or trust in something without proof (i.e. assenting to agree with something and go along with it).
  2. Knowing spiritually that something is absolutely true in the way that we know that grass is green and the sky blue.

My faith was mainly of type 2. Extremely sure and based on an apparent inward knowledge of truth. Many Christians have a faith of type 1 based on accepting a forensic (legal) argument which seeks to prove that the bible and the gospel message are true. This is one reason why so many Presbyterian ministers had law degrees as first degrees. Protestantism was based on forensic argument and the minister wore legal dress in the pulpit.

My current position is one of honesty. I decided to maintain a position of non-belief until sufficient evidence for the existence of God is revealed. This means that I have been looking for a type 2 faith, when most people do not have this. Interesting.

As an aside to this I have asked a number of people how they would define faith. Most recently via Twitter with Peter Anderson who is the Pastor of Destiny Church in Edinburgh (a charismatic church, descended sideways from the restoration churches founded by Bryn Jones). His Twitter reply:
I c belief as knowing truth "...the assurance of things hoped for the conviction of things not seen" (Heb.11:1)
So very much in line with type 1. The difficulty with a type 1 faith is that although it may give you a feeling of assurance about the existential things of life like death, meaning and purpose its uncertainty means that it does not help with everyday situations in the way that it is suggested to by some of the people promoting it. Even the promotion of faith is a bit of an oxymoron. Is it possible to promote something which requires at its centre a lack of evidence? Because faith with evidence stops being faith and becomes knowledge. Thanks to Peter for replying. Communication is always a good thing. I may have to repeat the question to others on twitter.

So where does this leave my journey? Well, I am always open to suggestions, but I am very wary of anything which seeks to supplant reason; makes promises of extreme improvements in quality of life or health or sells itself by saying that life is meaningless without God. I suspect that means I am never going to be pew fodder for an evangelical church.


  1. Knowing spiritually that something is absolutely true in the way that we know that grass is green and the sky blue.

    This is me...

  2. In that case, from my perspective, it is hard for me to understand how you were shaken from that type of faith.

  3. One factor was meeting people who had similarly strong faith which was contradictory to mine. Both can't be right.

  4. Jeff has sent in a response to this article which I have published as a guest post here.

  5. Gordon, I agree with you. Majority of people especially those living in the 3rd world have "type 1" faith.

    Even in the first century, Paul encouraged his flock to believe that Jesus Christ was risen from the dead with no evidence at all! That's FAITH! "type 1"

    1 Cor 15:12-19 implies Corinthians' doubts about the resurrection of Christ as REAL HISTORICAL EVENT.

    It's like 10-20 years after the alleged resurrection of Christ, huh!

    If Paul uses only FAITH to believe and convince people that JESUS CHRIST resurrected, what's the sense of being faithful with JC's divinity?

  6. Hello Jay
    Paul uses a forensic (legal) argument really. Like many non pentecostal evangelists today, based on the balance of probabilities. In other words he appeals to reason (and to some extent tradition - he talks about the faith handed to the original disciples). Rowan Williams talks of this as a circle of reasoning that he is willing to step into in spite of the obvious problems with some of it.

    Yet, we now have a movement which is more experiential, where people are absolutely sure through personal revelation.

    One interesting thing is that the twelve disciples in the gospels are not people who have everything doctrinally nailed down or seem sure of very much. They are travellers rather than people who have arrived.

    Just my immeduate, random, response to your comment.